Category Archives: On death and dying.

People who I used to know…..

We`re all doomed I tell you, doomed!

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I`ve had the past week off as annual leave. It`s just as well really because I have some further, unexpected tests and scans to get through relating to my breast cancer or breast banana as I like to refer to it.  Just when you thought etc. etc……

My book

I was due to visit a cousin in Ireland this week but another time cuz, too much on my mind at the mo`.

The holiday at home has afforded me some much-needed time to reflect on my mortality and possible demise, which may be earlier than I anticipated even a year ago although obviously I hope not.  When I was given the news that the banana may have migrated to my other breast, at first I sank into the Slough of Despond but eventually I find, my mind habituates to even bad news, the most morose of thoughts and emotions lessen and in doing so, they become more manageable and life goes on.

I have been reflecting on my life and whether I have any regrets. I have a few, but then again…..

I regret sending Fred Ryland a valentine`s card which read “Roses are red, violets are blue, cabbages stink and so do you.“  Mostly though, being of the nature that believes everything happens for a reason, I regret nothing and I remain an optimist.  I find the main problem with having an optimistic nature is that optimists really believe they can help people become better human beings and are genuinely surprised when we realise yet again and far too late in the day, we cannot.  Hey ho, I digress.

One of the things that living with banana has given me is a really chilled out attitude to the things that don`t really matter which I have discovered is almost everything. Take this morning for example, I have eaten a piece of toast and butter spread liberally with salad cream with a fried egg on top.   Accompanying this feast, I then chomped down an extremely large piece of gorgonzola cheese, two big chilli olives and a bowl of baked beans with at least a desert spoon of Lidl tomato ketchup stirred in.   To finish it all off I took my daily supply of paracetamol, mega doses of magnesium, vitamin D3, cod liver oil, devil`s claw and curcumin supplements.  I fluctuate wildly between eating healthily and not touching alcohol, to downing a bottle of wine and smoking five fags in each hand all at once.  Do I care how much I am abusing my digestive and bodily systems? Not a jot, I`m going to die anyway. Oh come on!  It`s the only thing we can be really sure of and as my sister Sue`s wife said to me the day my sister died, “I knew she was going to die, I just didn`t think it would be today.”  (“It`s a good day to die today,” Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man.)

I don’t want a funeral. I`ve been to three recently and another one on Monday of next week. They have all been sad and that is absolutely fine of course but I don`t want sad, I want a happy affair.  The only funeral I have ever attended which was an affair involving lots of laughter and celebration was that of a dear friend and colleague Debbie Lees. Hers was a humanist funeral that really spoke of her, it was great.  So after I die, I`d like some kind death person to come and remove my body please and cremate me and may my family and friends have a big party, get drunk, take illegal substances if that is their bag and have a laugh remembering the me who I am.  And I don`t want any hymns sung, I`d rather you sang “Is that all there is?” and “Cabaret” and “You`ll never walk alone” and “The sun has got his hat on,” at the top of your voices and send my ashes off in the form of a firework. Hah!

So there you are, I don`t have anything to leave anybody, if there is one thing I learned from my Buddhist studies, it`s that material things do not matter.  I was about to write something mean and unpleasant here about clinging to wealth and belongings and about hypocrisy but my mother Bess suddenly materialised across the table from where I`m sitting and drumming her fingers on the wood, tut tutted at me and said, “Now, now Helen…..” so I won`t. She died 23 years ago and she is never far away. Thanks mum, you taught me there is a time and a place for everything and most of all you passed on to me your irreverent sense of humour which showed me how to laugh at life`s adversities.  I`ve enjoyed a lot of laughter in my life, you can`t beat it.

So, more tests over the next two weeks and the results at the end of the month, meanwhile, where did I put my baccy?

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Gone but never forgotten!

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My ex mother in law Joyce, died yesterday morning. She would have been ninety on June 22nd and for the past few months has been deteriorating with what her G.P. described as  “a touch of Alzheimers,” as well as various other conditions.  She was a poor old thing when she slipped away and my immediate emotion was one of relief, no-one wants to see another human being linger when they are already struggling.

Joyce and I never shared a close relationship, in fact for two years of our lives we did not see or speak to one another at all and they were two good years for me, for Joyce was always so very critical of me, my lifestyle, my parenting skills, my skills as a housewife. I won`t list here the many, many times she undermined me and whittled away at my confidence because she is gone now and it was all so very long ago. Instead, I`d like to comment on the few occasions she made me smile and try to sustain those as my enduring memories of her.

We were walking together up Longbridge Lane, we`d been to the local shops for something or other. It was a hot summer day and a wasp started buzzing around my head.  Joyce began to bat her hand around my head in an effort to scare the wasp away. Suddenly she swatted the side of my head so hard, she bounced my glasses off my face and half way across Longbridge Lane. She collapsed in hysterics and laughed about it the whole of the rest of the way home.

Joyce`s little side swipes were always quite obvious to me however, not to innocent bystanders. For example, when I was leaving my marriage for the first time in November 1991 for my Christmas present Joyce gave me a bag which had “Bon Voyage” printed across the front of it.

I was quite a bit older when I started to take Joyce and her sisters Jean and Lillian out for meals from time to time. I don`t know why I felt duty bound to do this for Tony and I had been divorced for a lot of years and I`d had two serious relationships during that time although I did love Jeanie. (Jeanie also died, two weeks` ago and her funeral was just the other day.) I used to call them The Golden Girls and every meal I took them to, panned out in the same way.  They would mooch around for a table and sit down. Lillian would then complain it was “too draughty” and they would move.  Jeanie would then complain it was “too dark” to see the menu so off we`d go again. It was not uncommon to move at least four times before they were in agreement. Then Joyce would be imperious and terribly rude whilst ordering and say things like, “this glass is dirty (it never was) bring me another clean one immediately,” in hindsight she may have been in early dementia for some years and this could quite easily have affected her perceptions but at the time, I recall being deeply embarrassed and the numbers of waiters and waitresses I have apologised to over the years doesn`t bear thinking about.  Then they would bicker, like three silly children, all the way through their meal.

I was with Joyce on Thursday, a day and a half before she died. She was being nursed in a residential home and we all knew she did not have very much longer, she was so terribly frail and had stopped eating altogether. Like many people with dementia, Joyce was repeating a single word over and over again and the word she chose was “please.”

I know she wanted to go home but she was ensconced in her long term memory by then and probably didn`t know where home was. I tried distracting her which didn`t work and in the end I said to her, “You know Joyce you don`t have to say please, you could say another word….”

“Alright,” she said in a tiny little voice, “what word shall I say?”

So I continued and suggested, “well, you could say balloon, or tomato.”

“Or I could say shit.” She said to me.

“You could indeed,” I replied.

So Joycey sat there, like a little bird in her big bed quietly saying “Shit, shit, shit.”

When I left, I kissed her forehead and said, “Goodbye old lady.”  And she gave me a watery smile and I thought, she is still there, she is still Joyce underneath that haze of dementia.

RIP Joyce Inman.

June 22nd 1927 – June 10th 2017

 

 

 

 

She died with a fag in her mouth.

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In the early 1900`s my family ran a large greengrocer`s shop in Acocks Green.  Above the shop was a huge, five bedroom flat where I was to be born in 1953.  My grandad Edward would get up at the crack of dawn to take his horse and cart five miles to the market to pick up produce to sell and my nan Polly and Edward`s sister Mary helped him in the busy shop.  Mary was always a heavy smoker, she always had a cigarette dangling from her mouth and in spite of her twenty to thirty a day habit managed to live well into her eighties.  She had been a nurse and brought many grateful soldiers back to full health during the first world war.  I know this because as a child, I was given her autograph book signed by lots of the men she nursed and it was filled with some fascinating drawings and poems which accompanied their thanks to her.  One drunken night in my twenties I gave it away to a woman who really loved it and I have regretted that but hey ho, it was a long time ago.

One night during World War 2 a few years before I was born, there was a heavy bombing raid over Birmingham.  Everyone apart from Aunty Mary fled to the large and damp concrete air raid shelter which had been built in the fields at the back of the house to protect the local community.  Mary was a stoic and she refused, as she put it, “to be made to leave her own home because of  The Hun.”  Referring to German soldiers as The Hun was a highly effective piece of propaganda seized upon by British politicians in WW2 in order to demonise the German troops.  Remember Attila the Hun?

Mary had gone to the loo that night presumably to have a fag and take her mind off the air raid.  She was perched on the throne refusing to be put out by Hitler when a bomb happened to fall right outside the flat, exploding and creating a massive crater in the Warwick Road.  The accompanying vibrations to the building literally blew Mary off the toilet so on that occasion, she must have been somewhat relieved to find herself still in tact.  Actually the night time raid also hit St. Mary`s Church in Acocks Green and did a huge amount of damage to that lovely building but like my Aunty Mary, the church too, survived.

Some years after the war, I had been born and spent a lot of my time with my nanny and Aunty Mary who now shared a house together in Dudley Park Road in Acocks Green.  They had retired and my mother and father were always occupied with shop business not that I especially minded at that time, my nanny was my favourite person in the world.

I used to watch Aunty Mary preparing food in the small, nineteen fifties kitchen.  She and nanny always wore aprons and Mary`s fags and matches would be kept available in the pocket of her apron.  She always smelt a mixture of fags and Rennies, I remember it distinctly.

I have a vivid childhood memory of watching Mary making gravy for Sunday dinner in a large roasting tin, the ever present fag hanging down. I was fascinated and childishly horrified as a good inch of ash which had been perilously close to dropping, finally departed from the cigarette and fell like a humungous grey snowflake, down with a gentle plop into the roasting tin.  Unperturbed Mary simply continued to stir the ash into the gravy.

After my nan died, Mary went to be taken care of by my Uncle Alan who lived in Great Barr and from time to time, we would all go to visit her and say hello to my cousins Stephen and Rita.  Alan`s wife Elsie was a very house proud woman and I remember it was a bit like visiting royalty.  My uncle, also a greengrocer worked very hard and the house reflected that with fine furniture and beautiful carpets throughout.  It must have been all the more galling for him therefore, to cope with the manner in which my Aunty Mary had chosen to die.

That day, she had lit a fag and as in WW1 all those years ago, retired to the toilet for a quiet smoke.  God called her, it was her time and she passed away and let her body slip off the loo and on to the newly laid pale green carpet.   Unfortunately, her body was blocking the door so too late, my Uncle Alan managed to push it open only to find the rascally fag that had fallen from her lips had already singed a large burn into his new carpet.

Aunty Elsie must have had kittens but that recollection of my ancient Aunty Mary, always makes me smile.

Sweet and Poetic Memories of my Sister.

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This morning I received a lovely surprise in the post.  A large box filled with memories of my wonderful sister Sue, who very sadly died far too early on from lung cancer in 2007.  My sister was 60 when she died and the cancer was brought on by her life time habit of heavy smoking.  When Sue met Mandy who became her civil partner, Mandy objected so much to the smoking, Sue was banished to the garden shed where she festooned the walls with posters of Clint Eastwood and installed a comfy armchair.  There she and I would sit and Sue would smoke and we would chat and look at her very beautiful and rather eccentric garden. There was a large monkey puzzle tree in the garden and so my sister hung lots of toy monkeys purchased from local charity shops, up there in the top branches where they would swing around in the breeze and look down at us, grinning.  Another was gaily hung with sparkling CD`s, a sort of alternative Christmas tree.  Everywhere on the ground you would stumble upon small ceramic animals, hedgehogs, birds, gnomes and fairies.   The garden was filled with flowers of so many varieties; it was a burst of vivid and gorgeous colour wherever you looked and secrets hidden in every corner.

Shortly before my sister died we were talking about smoking and Sue turned to me and said, “Do you know Hel, in spite of it all I can honestly say there isn`t one cigarette I haven`t thoroughly enjoyed.”  Those of us who still miss her so much, could hardly disagree but I`d much rather she were still here.

My sister`s things were posted to me by my niece Sarah.  They had been a while coming to me because in spite of also being diagnosed with a usually much more aggressive type of cancer, Mandy had survived my sister by this much time. Sadly Mandy died too, earlier this year and now the house will be put up for sale.   Times change and all is well.

I took the box to work with me to open up when I got to my office.   This was a bit of a mistake as I instantly began blarting, but happily so, happy to receive such lovely tokens of my sisters` love.   Inside were all sorts of magical things, lots of the silver rings that Sue loved so much (thank you Sarah) silver bangles, precious photographs, a beautiful trinket dish, a glass heart.  Best of all though was a book called “Hel and Sue`s Pomes.  A Collection.”  Sue and I would pen in a few of our favourite poems, sometimes ones we had written ourselves, and then send the book to each other year on year on our birthdays and every year we would add more.  I opened it up and a photograph of my daughter Becky fell out so she must have held a special place in Sue`s heart.  the memories have come flooding back to me now that I have begun reading these wonderful poems again after such a long time.

Here are a couple of my favourites:

New Every Morning.

Every day is a fresh beginning,

Listen my soul to that glad refrain.

And, spite of old sorrows

And older sinning,

Troubles forecasted

And possible pain,

Take heart with the day and begin

Again.

Susan Coolidge  1835 – 1905

Here is one that Sue wrote:

Once when I was a child

I found the skeleton of a mouse

Buried in the vinegar scented cellar

Of my father`s shop

It was ivory – intricate,

Very beautiful

I put it into a glass jar and gave it to some-one I loved.

Perhaps we spend our lives

Offering to those we love

A fragile skeleton

Enclosed in glass

If we are lucky we note

Only hairline cracks –

Thankful that the glass does not shatter –

The skeleton remains intact.

Sue Coulson.  1947 – 2007

(I think Sue must have been using poetic license there as dad`s shop didn`t have a cellar, it did have a long entry where he stored the banana crates…..  I think it must have been here that she found the mouse skeleton)

Here`s another one Sue liked:

I would live all of my life in nonchalance

And insouciance

Were it not for making a living,

Which is rather a nouciance.

Ogden Nash.   1902 – 1971

And one of mine…..

Becky`s Rhino Rap.

Her name is Becky and she`s an Inman

And she`s got more balls than a brawny bin man

She`s a lap dancer and she`s ok

She bounces her boobs in a natural way

She shakes her ass and wiggles that butt

And she gets paid for it, for pleasing nuts!

She raises a smile

And that`s not all

She`s a funky Rhino dancer

And she`s got balls!

Helen Pitt. March 2004

(Composed following a conversation with my daughter when we pondered what it would be like to become a lap dancer.  Spearmint Rhino had just opened midst a huge furore in Birmingham)

And my favourite one of mine…..

The Song of the Lovesick Octopus.

 I want you to know dear

And understand

My heart is rich with gravity

Please slip your octopus arm in here

And fill my mantel cavity.

I want to float in the surf with you

And murmer the words, “be mine”

I am slippy and slimy and wet from the sea,

Yours fishily, just give me a sign.

 I need you to do that special trick

The one where you change your hue,

And watch as the blush spreads

Along your arms

And entangle myself with you

 And can you do your shape changer bit,

And morph into something special,

A chair, a bed, a bar of soap,

Let`s have an octopus wrestle.

 I need to swim in the brine with you

It`s hopeless, I wish you could see.

Please take me to heaven,

Wrap your legs up in mine,

And make octopus love with me.

Helen Pitt.  Valentines Day 2004.

 

It`s hard to believe that I wrote this poem for the Australian.  Hard to believe I once loved this man, that much.     (https://anightinwithnelly.wordpress.com/2013/04/28/a-letter-to-the-australian/)

Hey ho.  Times change and all is well.

I am ever so happy to have been given these things of my sisters and will leave this blog with a comment from my darling niece:

“The little plate I`ve sent you used to live on Ma`s side of the bed.  I really love it but I`m not really a knick-knack type of person.  It may have something to do with the fact that both my parents crammed/cram as much stuff/things/artefacts/junk/collectibles and shite into and onto every available space……..”

Well I am a knick-knack type of person Sarah and thank you again so much.  You have made my day.week/month/year.       🙂

Fred Ryland. In his memory.

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I first met Fred Ryland when I was sixteen, we met at the Birmingham flat of a couple of mutual friends, Dick Doyle and Dave Sevier, I can`t honestly remember how I met Dick and Dave it`s all so long ago.

We would sit around on the floor, cross legged or me with my feet up on the sofa, for hours each evening and most of the weekend.  Fred would roll a joint and share it with whoever was visiting, we would listen to The Doors, Velvet Underground, The Strawbs and Jimi Hendrix and talk the sort of philosophical, stoned nonsense that you talk when you are kids.

Fred was incredibly handsome in an olive skinned, hippy kind of a way.  His hair was jet black and shiny and hung around his shoulders like a girls.  His teeth were large and white, and he had a full and inviting mouth with very red lips.  He grew a beard, in fact once he`d grown the beard he resembled Che Guevara, I thought he was fabulous.  He was also mega clever, I do like clever men.  By the time he was at Aston University in 1972, he was studying pure mathematics and writing new computer languages.

I met Fred shortly after his dad had died.  Fred`s mum and dad were German.  His dad was in the German Luftwaffa and was captured by British soldiers during World War Two and taken to a prison of war camp in Cardiff I think.  It was here that he eventually met and married Fred`s mother.  I recall that Fred told me that she had a very difficult time towards the end of the war, getting out of Germany, it may be that her family was Jewish, Fred certainly looked Jewish. He had a lovely throaty laugh and a slightly German way of pronouncing words, he pronounced his `v`s` as `f`s` and I found that very endearing.  His mum may have survived her son, the last I heard of her in 2007 was that she had Alzheimers and was in a nursing home in Cheltenham.

Fred`s father liked to smoke and drink, and he eventually paid the penalty, dying in his late fifties with a massive coronary.  Fred awoke one night to hear his mum frantically calling out for him and when he entered his parent`s room in the middle of the night, his dad had already died.  I remember he talked to me about the indescribable shock and utter confusion he experienced when he saw his father on the bed because his dad had suffered a hemorrhage and had lost blood from his nose, mouth and tear ducts.  Fred had to deal with his own and his mother`s grief at the tender age of sixteen.  It affected him massively and it is hard to believe, he was bullied at school after his father`s death, shame on them.

Fred had a Norton Scrambler motorbike which was his pride and joy.  It took us everywhere in the days before we had to wear helmets, our hair was constantly tangled from catching the breeze on the bike.  He would even take me on the bike up the M1 to see my sister in Leeds.  Him all concentration and his pillion passenger reading a book which was typical of me.  I read The Happy Hooker once, all the way to Leeds.

We fell terribly hard in love. They do say that first love never dies and it really is true.

We would lie on his big old feather bed at every possible opportunity and listen to our favourite musicians, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell….. and make out.  A massive poster of Marsha Hunt, black, oiled and naked, lying across a Harley Davidson motorbike, gazed down at us.  I would read juicy bits of Forum magazine out to him.  Forum was a liberal sex publication available during the flower power, love and peace seventies but without the pictures, we didn`t mind that because we liked to read to each other.  It was considered a very risqué magazine at that time, about 1972 but we liked it and would try out all the things we fancied.  Ah, those were halcyon days indeed.

When Fred and I had been together a couple of years, he discovered parachuting.  It became his passion and he went on to be a great teacher and jump out of aeroplanes all over the world.  Sadly, we were growing up and growing apart and our relationship came to a somewhat acrimonious end when I was nineteen.  I was broken hearted, it was mostly my fault and in spite of lengthy and valiant efforts to get him back, he was having none of it.  In the end I moved on but I never forgot about Fred.

I was lost in a memory this morning, walking my little dog along the stream at Brueton Park for it was there in 1971 on a similarly hot, summer`s day that Fred and I lay down in the grass by the stream, me in my orange bikini, he in his black shorts and we absolutely baked ourselves.  When I got home my mother made me lie in a cool bath for ages, she was scared I would get sun stroke and then Fred and I lay down on my bed and slept in each other`s arms, both of us burned to buggery.

I recently heard that Fred had died.  Just like his father, Fred had a heart attack in his late fifties.  Perhaps he had an idea that he was going to die because he came to see me in the spring of 2007.  I was 53 and I hadn`t seen him for thirty six years.  He stayed with me for four days. I am immensely grateful for that time and I will never forget it, it was lovely to know that he had never forgotten about me.  He wasn`t well when he stayed with me, he slept for a good deal of the time.  Although the passion of our youth had disappeared many years ago, the tenderness we felt for each other and the love still remained.  It made me very happy just to be with him and it has left me with a good memory of him.  It allowed me an opportunity to say I`m sorry for my bad behaviour all those years ago and to be forgiven.  His visit made me understand how important it is never to lose sight of love and to be grateful for the good times.

I hope that Fred rests in peace, he was a really cool guy and I adored him.

On death and dying.

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I seem to have been surrounded by bereavement this week.  Beginning with my beloved sister Sue, it is the fourth anniversary of her death in a few days` time and I always find myself becoming emotional around this part of the year….  then there is my ex partner whose much loved brother-in-law passed away suddenly  a few months ago and finally, I received news yesterday that an old flame, someone very special to me, died last year the news taking its time to reach me.  So all in all, I`ve had enough of death.  Yah boo sucks to death!  I told my daughter yesterday, I am going to live until I`m a hundred and two and death can hang around for a bit for me until I`m good and ready.

Fortunately, my mother brought me up to have a healthy attitude to death and to see dying as the natural conclusion to our lives so I`m not afraid of dying and only occasionally concerned about the manner in which I die.  One has to remain philosophical although some people would argue that I do have some control, I can live a healthy lifestyle and try to maximise my chances I suppose.

I have also inherited from my dear mama, an irreverent attitude to death and just like she used to, I often find funerals quite funny in a dark sort of a way.  Take Fred Pierce the fish monger`s funeral as an example.  When everyone gathered around the crematorium after the service my mother glanced towards the chimneys and said to my brother in an audible whisper, `Alan, do you smell fish?` Then there is an acquaintance of mine, Jonny, who was attending his father`s funeral.  Jonny is a stereotypical white working class Brummy racist.  As I later listened to news of the service I was quite entertained.  I understand it was conducted by a Jamaican vicar who was as black as the ace of spades..

When my beautiful friend Simon took his life many years ago, the church was packed and there was standing room only.  Simon`s father was a minister and when Simon came out to him as gay, his father was so appalled by his son`s sexuality that he banished Simon from his church telling him that if he entered that holy place, he would taint it.  So it was very poignant to observe his father`s face as hundreds of people who like me, loved Simon deeply, rocked up to his funeral in an outrageous and incredibly flamboyant outpouring of love expressed in all the colours of the rainbow, just as Simon would have wanted it. So death, yes, it`s a funny old thing.This morning one of my friends sent me this in an e mail and I like it, it`s apt and it`s loving and most of all, it`s true.

Life is too short to wake up with regrets.
So love the people who treat you well.
Love the ones who don’t just because you can.
Believe everything happens for a reason.  
If you get a second chance, grab it with both hands.
If it changes your life, let it.
Kiss slowly.
Forgive quickly.
God never said life would be easy.
He just promised it would be worth it.

Living in Balsall Heath

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When my ex husband and I were in our twenties and the children were only babies, we lived for two years in Runcorn Road in Balsall Heath. The property we lived in, a splendid terraced house, was then owned by Shape Housing Association. Shape only owned short life housing which meant we could stay there for a little while because the property was due for demolition and the land for redevelopment.

I loved living in Balsall Heath. A notorious red light area, the only thing that annoyed me was that I would often get curb crawled, even if I had the children with me. I got into the habit of taking a note book out of my bag and writing the car registration down and then they’d speed away. Furiously pushing the children ahead in their buggy I’d shout after the drivers, “Do I look like I’m on the game?!!”

My children went to Tindal School which was and still is a community school and offered impoverished mums like me, a great deal of support. Tony was working teaching art part time in Bridgenorth. We were as poor as church mice and I was pretty down for a while but Balsall Heath saved me, it saved my life. The nursery at Tindal was great, they would take the children for the morning and send me home to sleep, which was just what I needed. My son Jesse had a lot of friends there and when we arrived at nursery my daughter Becky would inevitably take off all her clothes and climb into the large white Belfast sink in the corner where she was very happy playing in the water while someone watched over her. That wouldn’t happen now of course but nobody seemed to mind in those days. The school children were almost entirely asian making my children practically the only white children there and I think their early experiences at Tindal enriched their lives immeasurably and taught them all sorts of skills they may not have gained in any other school. I went back to visit Tindal School a little while ago and it was great revisiting those times. It is now a school which mainly teaches children whose parents are seeking asylum. The head teacher told me how heart breaking it is, to get the children settled in, only to see the families later dispersed somewhere miles away.

When I lived in Balsall Heath I occasionally used to pop over to The Victoria Inn at the end of the road where I would share a drink with the Evening Mail columnist Maureen Messent and that helped too, since she and I had some great conversations. She was particularly fond of our daughter and I believe she may have lost a child herself although this was never confirmed.

Opposite us were more terraced houses which were occupied by mostly older people who had lived there all their lives. We made friends with lots of neighbours. Next door to us were a brother and sister who had lived with one another for all of their eighty five years together, they were fascinating to talk to, they were from a different century and going into their house was like time travelling. I joined a writing group called Women and Words and developed a massive crush on the facilitator, a beautiful, gamine woman called Myra who encouraged me with my writing. We held poetry readings at The Old Moseley Arms, my poems were pretty popular and all the while my confidence in my writing was increasing.

As we were getting ready to leave Runcon Road to buy our first house in Yardley (261 Jeannie) two families moved in to squat at the end of the road. They were travellers and had nine children between them. They came into our garden when we weren’t there and took our children’s toys but we understood, they had no money. They were made unwelcome by most in our community but me and Tony made friends with them. Their children would steal our milk off the door step and Tony would go and knock on their door and ask for it back. One day one of the little ones brought sterilised milk to Tony and he said, ‘mine’s pasteurised!’ He could see a line of stolen milk running all along their hallway.

One of the travellers knocked our door one evening and asked us if, when we left, we would leave the front door on the latch so that they could move in and have a house of their own. We knew how unpopular this would be with our neighbours, nevertheless, we left the kitchen window open for them and my mum and dad’s bed, the bed I had been born on and which had been passed on to me by my mother, we left that for them too, they didn’t have two sticks to rub together. We occasionally called by to collect our post from them and although in the main it has to be said they were rogues, we had developed a friendship based on a sort of mutual respect.

I sometimes drive down Runcorn Road and recall those times. The houses are all gone now to make way for a car park but when I drive by I get all the echoes of my children’s early years, running through my head and hear the sound of children’s laughter up at Tindal School.

Now where did I put my teeth?

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I recently watched the absolutely stunning four parter ‘Exile,’ on BBC TV. Jim Broadbent’s brilliant portrayal of a father with alzheimers should win him a BAFTA at the very least. It got me to thinking about when I worked with people with dementia whilst studying to be a pyschiatric nurse and how much I loved the job. Of course I wasn’t a daughter looking after an elderly parent on my own, so I have no idea how frustrating that is or what bloody misery it can bring. No, I was in the fortunate position of having a team of nurses around me, so there were always at least two people to assist someone to get dressed in the mornings, two people to assist someone to eat their breakfast and two people to coerce someone into taking their medication, even when it was fairly evident that some individuals did not wish to do so. 

The ward I worked on was an assessment ward for mostly older people in their seventies and eighties although surprisingly there were one or two people on the ward who were only in their fifties. Their dementia had been brought on by chronic alcohol consumption and I had no idea at that time, about this particularly devastating effect of long term alcohol abuse. 

I met some wonderful characters on the ward. My favourite man was called Fred and he was resident with his wife Connie who was also dementing. We were working hard as a team to try and identify a care home where they could go and remain living together, they had been married over fifty years and we didn’t want to part them. Connie was an absolute sweetie but if Fred didn’t take his medication he could become very agitated and often aggressive, hitting out at anyone who approached him. I believe that people like Fred do well in a one to one relationship with someone they trust, however, on the wards there simply aren’t enough people to offer this kind of support and so Fred was encouraged to take his medication. It was a powerful anti-psychotic and Fred made it clear he hated taking it, it stultified his unique presence and gave him a peculiar gait. Sometimes the nurses would hide it in his food which is appalling practice and probably illegal. Sometimes he would hide the pills beneath his tongue and I would later find them stuck to the wall behind his bed. 

One morning I went into work, it must have been about 7am. Lots of people with dementia find it incredibly hard to sleep, it’s a result of how their brain is operating, coupled with various medications. So it was not unusual to find a number of residents awake and in the lounge, waiting for their breakfast and for the morning shift. Some of the patients believed that the ward was a hotel and would treat me like their own personal maid which I didn’t mind a bit, it made me smile and I used to think better that, than the reality. 

When I arrived, a few residents on the ward said hello to me. Something wasn’t quite right though – it was strange, everybody had a slightly different air about them and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It was only when I later sat down at the table to share breakfast with everyone that I finally worked out what had happened. No-one could speak clearly to me and several people were dropping their food as they tried to spoon it into their mouths. This was not as a result of their dementia, oh no! This was because during the night, one of the patients had decided that someone had stolen his dentures. In the ensuing fracas, (all of which had presumably taken place whilst staff were occupied with their night-time duties,) the patients had swapped each other’s dentures around. Gazing at me with leery grins they slurped their cornflakes down. It took me a fair old while to sort their teeth out and after this, we had everyone’s dentures engraved with the owner’s initials. 

Another of my favourite patients was a lady called Edna. She was a statuesque woman and a diabetic. At every opportunity Edna would try and sneak into the kitchen to steal food and because of this, we had to keep the kitchen locked at all times. One day we must have forgotten because I found Edna sneaking off in a guilty fashion down the corridor to her room. I could see quite clearly that she had lots of things hidden underneath her jumper so I asked her what she had put there and turning to face me like a caught child she said to me, “nothing.” I took her to her room where beneath her jumper I found twenty two cut sandwiches, half a dozen jam doughnuts and several pots of fruit yoghourt. 

Working with dementia can be incredibly poignant. I was nursing a man who prior to his retirement had been the head teacher of an eminent grammar school. Most of the time he was off in his own world but occasionally, like lots of people with dementia he would have moments of great clarity. One time he turned to me and out of no-where said, “it’s devastating you know.” I asked him what it was that was devastating and he replied, “this bloody alzheimers, it really throws you, you know,” and then he was off again and away from me….. 

So very well done Jim Broadbent, for your compelling and utterly convincing portrayal and I’m looking forward to part two this evening

The ladies` tea club

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    I drink too much and that’s bad for me. My favourite tipple is a nice, soft Californian red which if only I could stick to a glass after dinner is not only good for my heart but the antioxidant qualities of red wine will help to prevent breast cancer. Since both my grandmother (as written about here in Tales from Pinfold) and my mother Bess had breast cancer then you would have thought that this compelling information might be all that I needed to persuade me to reduce my intake, but you’d be wrong for I have never had a glass of wine in my life. A bottle yes! A glass, hardly ever.

    Don’t misunderstand me for I’m not an overbearing lush with a bulbous nose, halitosis and thread veins. I’m a happy drinker. I have a drink, have a chat, enjoy a laugh and go to bed but alcohol has its downside and this is becoming more evident to me the older I become. Take my weight for example. If alcohol is out of my life, I weigh in at a steady ten stone without even trying. Put a drink in my hands however and over a period of a year or two, I balloon up to fourteen stone which is what I am currently. This is not good, particularly as I already know I have high blood pressure. Being fourteen stone is unenjoyable on so many levels for a little woman like me. It makes me sedentary, it makes me uncomfortably hot at this time of year and as far as buying any fashionable clothes goes, well, you can kiss that notion goodbye because fashion designers only make fashionable clothes for people who are ten stone or under. So. What to do……

    In my quest to become healthier, to try to get a firmer grip on my intake of alcohol and let’s face it, save myself a whole load of dosh I have trodden a number of paths over the years. I went to Aquarius (too earnest) I went to AA ( too cult like) I went to speak to an independent counsellor who looked uncomfortable listening to my story and kept on watching the clock. The most successful periods of abstinence for me were when I was pregnant oh happy liver, when I was dieting oh joyous kidneys and when I lived for a while with a recovering alcoholic so drink was completely off the agenda. I’ve never felt so healthy in my life! (There were other things going on that weren’t so good but that’s another story,) anyway;

    As I lay awake this morning contemplating this lovely day before me I thought, there must be lots of women who can relate to what I’m writing about here. I like women, I’ve always found women to be most supportive and wonderful human beings and that’s when it struck me! I’LL START A LADIES’ TEA CLUB, for ladies who like to drink tea. We can take it in turns to host it and meet once a month. We can talk about anything we like or we can talk about absolutely nothing at all, there will be no rules and you can smoke in the garden if you like.

    I love tea. Yorkshire is my favourite followed by Everyday. Once when I was travelling in southern India, I strolled through tea plantations and was intoxicated by the heady perfume of the blossom which is part of the camellia family. I crushed some flowers and put them in my rucksack and it smelled sweetly for days afterwards. During the day I love fruit tea, especially red fruits, I enjoy the smokey flavour of redbush, I love mint tea with a dollop of honey and I love soothing camomile just before bed. So you see, even writing this indicates to me that I am on my way, oh yes, a change is gonna come!

    If you are interested in coming along to my tea group then either message me here or leave a comment with your contact details and I’ll get back to you.

    Have a lovely day – slurp!

Once bitten twice fly.

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When my children were small, my dad used to write little stories for them for bedtime. In a recent clear out, my daughter found a story he had penned for her when she was about five, preserved in his unique and very beautiful script. I’ve put it here for posterity and because it’s funny.

“Good morning Mr. Fly,” said Mrs. Spider, “you are looking well I must say, you have put on a nice bit of weight since I last saw you.”

“Yes,” said Mr. Fly, “my wife has discovered a new butcher in the High Street and we have both had some jolly good feeds off the offal he stores at the rear of the shop.”

“Oh dear,” said Mrs, Spider, “I wish I could find something to feed on, I haven’t had a good meal since my poor husband went missing.”

Sorry about your husband,” said Mr. Fly, “any idea where he may be?”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Spider, “I know where he is but I don’t want to talk about it now, it’s too painful to think about.”

“Would you care to come into my parlour?” said Mrs. Spider, “we could have a real old talk about so many things.”

“No thank you,” said Mr.Fly, “the last time you invited me into your parlour, I got caught up in the curtains and had an awful job to get out again. I managed it in the end but I broke a wing and spent ten days in flyspital waiting for it to mend.”

“Well, you won’t have that sort of trouble now,” said Mrs.Spider, “the curtain mesh is much wider now and you can fly straight through it.”

“Oh, alright,” said Mr. Fly, “I’ll be with you in two buzzes.”

“Hey!” said Mr. Fly, “you told me the mesh was much wider and here I am, well and truly stuck again.”

“Did I say that?” said Mrs. Spider, “I should have said the back room mesh, not the parlour mesh, shall I come and help you out?”

“I think I can manage,” said Mr. Fly, “here we go again, another busted wing, what will my wife say…… ”

Jack Pitt  Circa 1985